History of Psychology
Academics have always been interested in
how the mind works and indeed psychology has existed in one form or another
for many years, but other subjects, especially philosophy, have often overshadowed
it. Often it was seen as not scientific and philosophical in the sense
that there seemed to be no concrete answers within the subject. Now it
is one of the most popular subjects to study and has a firm place within
the sciences. It is interesting to consider how this formulation of psychology
as a science arose and how this new psychology and the old psychology have
been merged together. The aim of this essay is to consider Wundt and James’s
involvement in this transitional process between philosophy and psychology.
The evidence presented should show that Wundt and James were extremely
instructive and influential figures in the history of psychology.
Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt, the son of an
Evangelical pastor, was born near Manheim, Germany, on 16 August 1832.
He was from an academic family with members who were scientists, professors,
government officials and physicians. He was often inattentive in his own
schooling and was a habitual daydreamer. He failed his first year of high
school and was sent to Heidelberg to live with an aunt. Here he improved
academically and graduated at age 19. He decided to embark on a career
in medicine and indeed excelled in this area. His achievements lead him
into the field of physiology and he decided to proceed into the academic
side of this subject by becoming a lecturer.
As a lecturer at Heidelberg Wundt earned
a very low salary so he began to teach courses privately. His first course
in experimental physiology he taught in his own home and attracted only
four students. Wundt wished to further his career by both private teaching
and private studies. His studies at this time were connected with earlier
work in the fields of physiology and astronomy however these studies also
carried implications for a future science of psychology. It was in these
scientific experiments that Wundt developed his ideas for a hybrid of philosophy
and physiology, which would eventually become psychology.
He formulated two branches of psychology.
The branch he is most famous for is experimental psychology. In this he
took his experiences as a philosopher studying the mind and experiences
in physiology studying the body and created a new area of science. He believed
the mind could be studied in relation to the body and by controlled experimental
conditions new hypotheses could be formulated and either supported or not
in this new field. He did not believe however, that the experimental method
would prove enough to provide a balanced view of the science of psychology.
He also devised what he termed Volkerpsychologie (ethnic or folk psychology).
This embraced especially the study of language, myth and custom.
Once he had devised these two new branches
he began to actively pursue them. In the summer of 1862 Wundt offered a
new course of lectures on the experimental side entitled “Psychology from
the standpoint of Natural Science”. He also wrote “Lectures on the Human
and Animal Mind” (published in1863 and 1864) which was the start of Wundt’s
investigation into Volkerpsychology. Wundt resigned from his post and became
even more dependent on and involved in his private studies.
In 1867 Wundt was invited to write
for a journal entitled “Recent Advances in the field of Physiological Psychology”.
His article aroused more attention than anything else he had written and
convinced many that a new scientific psychology was truly on the horizon
(Fancher, 1996, page155). In this way Wundt began to become an extremely
influential man. He had defined this new science and succeeded in making
it an independent subject. He had written the first widely read articles
on this new area and he had begun to devise explicit rules for his experimental
method in psychology.
As his ideas grew so did his influence
and this was apparent in 1874 when he produced his book Principles of Physiological
Psychology. As well as clarifying his ideas and this new area it was also
heralded as the first genuine textbook for Psychology.
In 1875 he accepted a full professorship
at Leipzig and it is here that Wundt cemented his place as one of the great
innovators of psychology. He installed the first fully-fledged programme
in experimental psychology and as he became more established his area grew
dramatically. By 1879 he had the first working research laboratory explicitly
devoted to experimental psychology and students flocked to study this new
science with him. In his new official “institute” of psychology graduate
students could study for PhDs in experimental psychology. He was extremely
important as he trained the first generation of psychologists. In 1881
he founded the journal Philosophische Studien (Philosophical Studies) this
meant that his research laboratories could publish their findings it also
meant that word of this new domain of science could be more widely spread.
By the 1900’s there were more than 100 psychology laboratories world-wide
and psychology was recognised as an important and academic subject. Wundt
continued to publish right up to his death in 1920. It is mostly his institutional
developments that have lead to Wundt often being regarded as the ‘father’
If Wundt was the founder of psychology
then William James was the man who brought the science to life in the United
States. He has been described as the first of the ‘new’ psychologists in
William James was born on 11 January 1842
in New York City. He was the eldest child of a wealthy, unconventional
family. His father moved the family around America and Europe and was plagued
be panic attacks and nervous problems. All the children were educated privately
and in this unusual household they were encouraged to formulate and discuss
their own personal opinions from an early age. James as a child was interested
in and showed great aptitude at art but this career was quickly terminated
by his father. James was encouraged to go into science so in 1861 James
went to Harvard, where he first studied chemistry and then changed to physiology.
In 1864 he enrolled at Harvard’s Medical School. After suffering from health
problems James’s future was uncertain and after suffering episodes similar
to his fathers he was in despair. However, he completed his medical degree
but his interests were beginning to emerge in another field-philosophy.
His career still unstable and the fact
that he had no real experience in any area worried James, but at last in
1872 he got he opportunity he had been waiting for. He was asked to teach
on a newly instituted physiology course at Harvard. James excelled as a
teacher provoking enthusiasm and interest from his students. He was charming
and vivacious and very much involved personally with many of his students.
He conveyed his own love of a subject to his students beautifully and with
ease. James had no formal training in this area and often was learning
the material himself days or hours before his lectures. He soon renamed
the course ” The Relations between Physiology and Psychology” and while
he was working on his book The Principles of Psychology, between 1878 and
1890, he focused exclusively on psychology.
As James’s interest in psychology grew
so he was determined to spread its message. He was extremely influential
in this area as he brought the new science to life and taught in a way
that all could understand. He had himself benefited from his readings with
regard to his nerve problems and was determined that his students would
see psychology’s worth and importance in everyday life. In 1890 James’s
book The Principles of Psychology was published and even when not original,
an old theme was given new life by its brilliance of formulation (Watson,
1963, page 325). James proved himself to be an accomplished writer and
his exciting way of conveying psychology lead to it quickly becoming the
leading psychology text in English.
In later years James’s interest in psychology
dwindled and he worked more in philosophy. However, James can be seen as
the man that not only spread the new science academically but who brought
it to the people. As well as instilling great interest in his students
he also wrote another book Briefer Course in 1892 which was read by people
from all walks of life. He helped bring psychology into the classroom by
applying its theories to everyday life. He was extremely important in the
spread of psychology around the United States.
James was influential in a way that previously
academics had been wary of. Wundt liked to control all his research but
James positively forced his students to think for themselves and to take
psychology forward as a science. James had no particularly new psychological
ideas for his students to adhere to and he encouraged and inspired them
to develop their own individual approaches. Three of James’s students G.
Stanley Hall, Mary Whiton Calkins and Edward Lee Thorndike went on to contribute
significantly to the development of American psychology.
Wundt certainly had no startling new theories
with relation to psychology but he succeeded in merging physiology and
philosophy and making psychology an independent subject in its own right.
He modelled his innovations on the progressions he saw in the other sciences.
Although not a inspiring man he was the first man who could be called a
psychologist without qualifying the statement by reference to another,
stronger interest (Leahey, 1980,page 241). He also wrote the first texts
on psychology and this succeeded in highlighting this new domain of science.
Wundt’s experimental psychology has influenced the psychology seen today
and has helped to cement psychology’s place within the other sciences.
James had no fresh ideas about psychology;
indeed his own interests seemed to lie with philosophy. However, drawing
on his own experiences of psychology’s real life uses he gave the subject
meaning for all. He allowed this new psychology to be read and understood
by the masses. He inspired and encouraged his students and was definitely
influential in the future of psychology due to the high calibre of students
he gave to the field of psychology. `If Wundt founded psychology then James
could be said to have brought it alive and to the people.
Fancher, R,E. 1996. Pioneers of Psychology.W.W.Norton
; Company Ltd, London.
Leahey, T,H. 1980. A History of Psychology.Prentice-Hall,Inc,United
States of America.
Watson, R,I. 1963. The Great Psychologists.J.B.Lippincott
Company, Philadelphia ; New York.